Watching this third installment, directed again by Barry Sonnenfeld, is like going to an elaborate party at the home of someone who's made it. Sure, it's nice to have a fully stocked bar and waiters passing hors d'oeuvres, but you miss the old days when the beer was on the back porch, all the guests were new and the fun was fresh and a little freaky.
The story opens in a lunar prison where a frightful one-armed alien known as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes. Boris wants to go back in time to kill Agent K (Josh Brolin) before he has a chance to shoot off the alien's arm and thwart an invasion. Turns out Agent J (Will Smith) needs to leap back to July 1969, too, to save his partner and the planet.
"Men in Black" doesn't just allow characters to time travel but also to watch or encounter younger versions of themselves along with aliens in modern-day and retro guises. The future of the world, along with insight to the partners' past including a tender secret, is at stake.
Josh Brolin does a dandy job as a youthful version of Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K. He nails the "surly Elvis thing" as Agent J describes it, along with Mr. Jones' vocal inflections, slight twang and body language. But the few funny lines sound as if they were ad-libbed by Mr. Smith.
"Men in Black 3," with its elaborate sets, is bigger than its predecessors but not better. And, alas, not funnier.
Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep and one-time Academy Award recipient Tommy Lee Jones bring their star power to "Hope Springs," a drama with small, welcome pops of comedy.
They play an Omaha, Neb., couple living a chilly marriage in separate bedrooms. When she spots a marriage guide by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), she decides she's going to Maine for pricey counseling sessions, with or without Arnold. He balks and barks and gripes, but ultimately joins her and resumes complaining in New England. With Arnold at one end of the couch and Kay at the other, Dr. Feld gently tries to discover whether this marriage can or should be saved and, if so, how.
"Hope Springs" deals with hard questions for couples who share a breakfast table, a house, a family and a life but not in the way they once did or she would like. It doesn't go for the easy out, but it does rely on the remarkable, never-fail talents of Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones.
Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) have been trying, for many years and at great expense, to have a child, without any success. They long dreamed about what their son or daughter would be like, and they write all of this down, tuck the sheets of paper into a wooden box and bury it in their garden with their hopes.
It turns out they unwittingly planted their formula for an instant offspring, and the wind stirs, the rain blows, the ground heaves and seems to deliver a boy named Timothy to them. All of a sudden, they are a mom and dad, and Timothy (CJ Adams) -- a 10-year-old with leaves literally sprouting from his legs -- is theirs.
Director-writer Peter Hedges invites the audience to fall in love with the family he creates and then offers an alternate scenario in which moviegoers aren't as emotionally invested. It's sweet and, as promised, odd and suggests "having one of your own" can happen in many wondrous ways.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "The Dark Knight Rises" (4 stars): Batman returns to save Gotham City after Bane unleashes his destruction. Reviewed last week.
• "Sparkle" (2 stars): The remake of the 1976 film starring Irene Cara is like a great song with a bad chorus. Just when it looks like it's settling into a smooth groove, it hits a sour note. "Sparkle" doesn't, but it does have some flashy moments -- especially from Jordin Sparks and Mike Epps. Even with their efforts, though, the movie proves all that glitters is not solid gold.
• "Beasts of the Southern Wild": The 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), live a spare existence, with almost all modern contrivances wiped from their lives. Director Benh Zeitlin layers this hard reality with a fantastic story of the Aurochs, prehistoric beasts that escape their ice prisons to charge the small community.
• "Raising Hope: The Complete Second Season": Fox comedy about an offbeat family.
• "Power Rangers Super Samurai: The Complete Season": Includes 20 episodes.
• "Eastbound & Down: The Complete Third Season": Danny McBride stars in the HBO series.
• "The Simpsons: The Fifteenth Season": Animated series about Springfield's wildest family.
• "Fred 3: Camp Fred": Fred heads to camp for the first time.
• "The Dog Who Saved The Holidays": The Bannister family and their dog, Zeus, travel to Malibu.
• "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn": Live-action series based on the video game.
• "V/ H/ S": Petty criminals are hired to retrieve a rare piece of found footage.
• "Ancient Aliens: Collector's Edition": A look at the theories by Erich von Daniken in "Chariots of the Gods."
• "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Second Season": The sophomore season is on Blu-ray.
-- PG staff and Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers